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Following Newtown Shootings, Conn. Advisory Panel Suggests Hardening Schools

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Improving the design of schools with an eye on safety is one of the main recommendations from the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, put together by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

In an interim report released today, the group of teachers, safety experts, state and city officials said its work is not done, but it wanted to publish something in time for the current session of the state legislature.

"This written report is crucial to recognizing and responding to the fundamental question of how we prevent this from happening again in Connecticut or anywhere around the country," the commission wrote.

While state regulations already set school design standards for lighting and air quality, the commission noted, "no standard exists for the baseline of safe school design," the report says. But there should be at least minimum safety standards for K-12 schools, day care centers, and colleges and universities, the commission said, acknowledging that cost will factor into schools' ability to improve security.

"As precious seconds matter in an episode like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School," the commission said, the state should consider requiring that all classrooms in K-12 schools have doors that can be locked from the inside by the classroom teacher, and requiring all exterior doors in these schools have hardware capable of implementing a full-perimeter lockdown.

The state should also consider developing a common threat and risk assessment tool that all schools and day care centers statewide can use within a year of its development. Then schools would need to review and update their security procedures every three to five years. For K-12 schools, the tool should include a "definitive analysis" of whether to have a school resource officer and it should address after-school activities.

All schools should have to develop emergency plans that say how information about emergencies will be shared and how, if necessary, children will be reunited with their parents. In Newtown, Sandy Hook Elementary parents gathered at a nearby firehouse, waiting for hours for information about their children after news of the shooting spread.

And schools should be required to practice deploying these plans, the commission said. (A recent newspaper investigation in Michigan found that while the state's school safety laws are strong, schools don't always follow the laws in the way intended, sometimes fudging practice sessions.)

Specifically for cases involving an active shooter, the commission said local police, fire, and other emergency response agencies should have up-to-date copies of school building floor plans, maps of the surrounding areas, evacuation routes, shelter sites, and established procedures for addressing medical needs, transportation, and notifying parents. Schools should evaluate cell phone coverage across their campuses and be encouraged to use surveillance cameras that can send images via the Internet—not just be viewed by someone monitoring cameras at the schools.

The commission wants the state to go beyond its recommendations and create another group that would come up with more specific ideas for improving school building safety, especially measures for retrofitting existing buildings with additional security features.

The state education department should develop training for school staff to improve awareness of school security policies. Every time procedures are changed or added, staff should get trained again, the commission advised.

The Sandy Hook Commission also recommended a host of new regulations about guns, including permits, the size of magazines, and background checks. In the coming months, it will shift its focus to learning more about what changes are needed in the state's mental health care system.

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